The quartet of newly minted citizen astronauts comprising the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission safely splashed down in the Atlantic off Florida’s coast on Saturday(September 18), completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, parachuted into calm seas around 7 p.m. EDT, shortly before sunset, following an automated re-entry descent, SpaceX showed during a live webcast on its YouTube channel.
The return from orbit followed a plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures surrounding the outside of the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius). The astronauts’ flight suits, fitted to special ventilation systems, were designed to keep them cool if the cabin heated up.
Applause was heard from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles as the first parachutes were seen deploying, slowing the capsule’s descent to about 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) before splashdown and again as the craft hit the water.
SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded by Tesla Inc electric automaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the spacecraft, launched it, flew it from its suburban Los Angeles headquarters and handled the recovery operation.
The SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida on Wednesday (September 15), carrying a billionaire e-commerce executive and three less-wealthy private citizens he chose to join him.
The quartet of amateur astronauts, led by the American founder and chief executive of financial services firm Shift4 Payments Inc, Jared Isaacman, lifted off just before sunset from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral atop one of SpaceX’s two-stage reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Isaacman, 38, was joined by geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, Aerospace Data Engineer and Air Force Veteran Chris Sembroski, 42 and Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Tennessee, a childhood bone cancer survivor who became the youngest person ever reach Earth orbit on the Inspiration4 mission.
Isaacman conceived of the flight primarily to raise awareness and donations for St. Jude, one of his favorite causes, where Arceneaux now works.
The flight marked the debut flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap ahead of competitors, likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight and earn amateur astronaut wings.
Isaacman paid an undisclosed but reportedly enormous sum – put by Time magazine at roughly $200 million – to fellow billionaire Musk for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
The Inspiration4 crew had no part in flying the spacecraft, operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
The successful launch and safe return of the mission should boost the fledgling Astro-tourism sector.
SpaceX already ranked as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.
In recent months, two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and Blue Origin, inaugurated their own Astro-tourism services, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s three days in orbit.